Sunday, September 23, 2012

Wristcutters: A Love Story

As I watched 2006's WRISTCUTTERS: A LOVE STORY I realized how much I've missed the charms of the low budget indie. I was once immersed in them, nearly every day in the 1990s taking in gems like PARTY GIRL, KICKING AND SCREAMING and duds like SLEEP WITH ME and SEARCH AND DESTROY. Regardless of my final opinions, most possessed a certain off-centeredness that was irresistable. Typical of these films were scenes that would continue past where you would expect a cut, random use of music, and dialogue filled with vernacular but also the occasional pearl of slacker wisdom. I always appreciated how many would celebrate (but not patronize) the eccentric personality. In Hollywood productions, such personalities are pidgeonholed as either saintly morons or hissably evil.

The premise of WRISTCUTTERS sounds like primo Gen X postmodern irony: those who commit suicide go to a place that looks similiar to the land of the living, but dimmer, no one smiles, and the countrysides are filled with an abundance of abandoned car chasses on the side of the road. I had a friend in high school who believed that when one died they either went to Heaven or came back to Earth, which she equated with Hell. I wonder what she would've thought of this movie?

Zia (Patrick Fugit) is first seen cleaning up his shambles of a bedroom and then face down on the bathroom floor, sink filled with blood. His narration informs us that he had been dumped by his girlfriend Desiree (Leslie Bibb) prior to his wristcutting. In this bleak afterlife (purgatory?) designed specifically for those who "off themselves", folks pass the time by trying to guess how others did the deed. Sometimes there are clues, like an angular slash over someone's face or a hole in the scalp, an obvious exit wound. Many of the principal characters' suicides are shown in flashback. One guy, while being booed on stage, poured beer over his guitar and electrocuted himself.

His name is Euguene (Shea Whigham), a Russian who lives with his entire family - each committed suicide around the same time and eat dinner and clink glasses just like they did when they were still alive. The father happily states that even in death, his family is still together. Euguene and Zia become friends, killing time in pool halls and bars. When Zia learns from another recent suicide (a guy to whom he owed $200) that Desiree killed herself a month or so after their break-up, he and Euguene take to the road to find her. Their trip is filled with funny encounters, including a pair of last chance car mechanics and a cute hitchhiker named Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), who tags along, on a mission of her own to find "the people in charge" of this bleak netherworld as she feels her being here is a great mistake.

Their car, by the way, has a literal black hole underneath the passenger side seat. Any time a cassette or a pair of sunglasses lands on the floor near it, it's gone forever. This provides several funny moments, and may even be integral to the plot late in the film.

WRISTCUTTERS uses its microbudget wisely, never lacking because it, for example, cannot create impressive sets. The lack of funds serves this project well, in fact, as everything is supposed to look downmarket and depressed. First time writer/director Goran Dukić achieves the hazy look of the parallel world through post-production. Your mind will fill with all sorts of nagging questions about how this land of suicidals functions, but don't get bogged down with that too much. You learn all you need to. Espcially by the time the character of Kneller (Tom Waits) shows up. Or rather is nearly run over. The film's odd humor is exemplified by Kneller's taking a nap in the middle of a road (he was looking for his dog).

But WRISTCUTTERS, despite its dark themes and sometimes morbid humor (songs by bands whose leaders killed themselves can be heard in some bar scenes), is basically a cute love story, complete with a happy final scene that even Nicholas Sparks fans will like. Leading to it is a lot of amusing weirdness, some broad humor, and good performances. But make no mistake, this is no sapfest, despite the appeal to my desire to see fictional characters be (eventually) happy. My warm feelings also came from spending 90 minutes back in the familiar indie landscape. I need to revisit more often.

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